Trying to live a healthy life in a chemical world is tough — so I was delighted to read last week news that the American Journal of Cardiology was taking a stand against the high fat in fast food by countering the saturated fat intake with a side of statins at checkout:

Patrons of fast-food restaurants may see packets containing statins next to the ketchup and salt at the self-serve counter if the suggestion of British researchers becomes reality.

Emily Ferenczi, BMBCh, of Imperial College London, and colleagues calculated that most daily statin regimens would be enough to neutralize the increased cardiovascular risk associated with eating a quarter-pounder with cheese and small milkshake every day.

Because statins are cheap, relatively safe even at high doses, and effective for reducing cardiovascular risk across patient subgroups, offering them to individuals who choose to eat an unhealthy diet against best medical advice might make sense, they argued in an editorial in the American Journal of Cardiology.

“It cannot … be reasonably argued on safety grounds that individuals should be free to choose to eat lipid-rich food but not be free to supplement it with a statin,” they wrote.

Then, radically enough, I read this in the Los Angeles Times yesterday that seems to shatter the Statins-as-Savior myth:

At the zenith of their profitability, these medications raked in $26.2 billion a year for their manufacturers. The introduction in recent years of cheaper generic versions may have begun to cut into sales revenues for the brand-name drugs that came first to the market, but better prices have only fueled the medications’ use: In 2009, U.S. patients filled 201.4 million prescriptions for statins, according to IMS Health, which tracks prescription drug trends. That’s nearly double the number of prescriptions written for statins in 2001, four years after they arrived on the American pharmaceutical landscape.

But in recent months the drugs’ touted medical reputation has come under tough scrutiny.

Statins were initially approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the prevention of repeat heart attacks and strokes in patients with high cholesterol who had already had a heart attack. And used for that purpose — called “secondary prevention” — the drugs are powerful and effective medications, driving down patients’ risk of another heart attack or stroke by lowering their levels of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol.

Then physicians came to believe statins could also reduce the risk of a first heart attack in people who have high LDL cholesterol but are nonetheless healthy. This use of statins — called “primary prevention” — has driven the growth in the market for statins over the last decade.

Today, a majority of people who use statins are doing so for primary prevention of heart attacks and strokes. It is this use of statins that has come under recent attack.

“There’s a conspiracy of false hope,” says Harvard Medical School’s Dr. John Abramson, who has cowritten several critiques of statins’ rise, including one published in June in the Archives of Internal Medicine. “The public wants an easy way to prevent heart disease, doctors want to reduce their patients’ risk of heart disease and drug companies want to maximize the number of people taking their pills to boost their sales and profits.”

So, which is it?  Do statins prevent fast food heart attacks or not?

Are we over-prescribed to the false hope that a statin can cure our bad eating behavior or not?

Does drinking alcohol give us breast cancer or does red wine make our hearts better?

Which set of facts do we believe and where do we draw the line between the fantastical and fantasy?

Was the Atkins diet good for us — or did it only fool us into determined ketosis?

How many Health Gods can we follow without losing our way into a faithless conundrum of insanity and opposite-end medical research?

5 Comments

    1. That’s true — but it can be confusing when the medical community tells you something is good for you and then another study suggests it harms you. Coffee is a good example. Does it give you high blood pressure and acid stomach? Or is it a help against Alzheimer’s?

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